For a lot of us, there’s a bright line separating the books we enjoyed as children from the “real” books of our more mature years. We all eventually age out of the thin, brightly illustrated picture books we enjoyed in our youth, replacing them with thicker, wordier volumes with fewer and fewer illustrations, until they become so dense with information that footnotes and appendices are needed to convey all the information, and a well-written index is a vital necessity to make use of any of it.
Such books seem like a lot less fun than kids’ books, and they probably are, but most of us adjust to the change and accept the fact that the children’s section of the library doesn’t hold much that’ll interest us anymore. But not all the books that get a “JUV” label on their spines are created equal. Some are far more than picture books, even if the pictures are the main attraction. The books of British-born American author David Macaulay come to mind, particularly the books comprising his Architecture Series.
Macaulay’s books were enormously influential in developing my engineering sensibilities, and are still a pleasure to thumb through these many years later. I still learn something about the history of construction and engineering when I pull one of these books off the shelf, which makes them Books You Should Read.
People with long commutes usually come up with tricks to stay focused and alert and avoid the dangerous tendency to zone out during the drive. One trick I used to use was keeping mental track of the various construction projects I’d pass by on my way to work, noticing which piers on a new highway overpass were nearing completion, or watching steelworkers put together the complex rebar endoskeletons of a new stretch of roadway.
One project I loved to watch back in the 80s was a new high-rise going in right next to the highway, which fascinated me because of the construction method. Rather than putting together a steel frame, laying out decking, and covering each floor with concrete, the workers seemed to be fabricating each floor at ground level and then jacking them up on the vertical steel columns. I was fascinated by this because every time I passed by the floors were in a different position, spreading out vertically as the building grew.
And then one day, it just wasn’t there anymore. Where there had been columns stretching nine stories into the city sky with concrete slabs lined up ready to be jacked up into their final positions, there was just an enormous hole in the ground with a ghastly gray cloud of concrete dust rising from it. It was April 23, 1987, and what was once going to be a luxury apartment building called L’Ambience Plaza in Bridgeport, Connecticut lay pancaked into the ground, entombing the bodies of 28 construction workers.
Here on Hackaday, we routinely cover wonderful informative writeups on different areas of hardware hacking, and we even have our own university with courses that delve into topics one by one. I’ve had my own fair share of materials I’ve learned theory and practical aspects from over the years I’ve been hacking – as it stands, for over thirteen years. When such materials weren’t available on any particular topic, I’d go through hundreds of forum pages trawling for details on a specific topic, or spend hours fighting with an intricacy that everyone else considered obvious.
Today, I’d like to highlight one of the most complete introductions to hardware hacking I’ve seen so far – from overall principles to technical details, spanning all levels of complexity, uniting theory and practice. This is The Hardware Hacking Handbook, by Jasper van Woudenberg and Colin O’Flynn. Across four hundred pages, you will find as complete of an introduction to subverting hardware as there is. None of the nuances are considered to be self-evident; instead, this book works to fill any gaps you might have, finding words to explain every relevant concept on levels from high to low.
Apart from the overall hardware hacking principles and examples, this book focuses on the areas of fault injection and power analysis – underappreciated areas of hardware security that you’d stand to learn, given that these two practices give you superpowers when it comes to taking control of hardware. It makes sense, since these areas are the focus of [Colin]’s and [Jasper]’s research, and they’re able to provide you something you wouldn’t learn elsewhere. You’d do well with a ChipWhisperer in hand if you wanted to repeat some of the things this book shows, but it’s not a requirement. For a start, the book’s theory of hardware hacking is something you would benefit from either way. Continue reading “Books You Should Read: The Hardware Hacker’s Handbook”→
After pulling late hours in my school machine shop for a few years, I couldn’t help but wonder, who measures the measurement tools? How did they come to be? I’d heard anecdotes from other students and engineers while they inspected my freshly machined parts, but these stories were one-offs. What I wanted was a tale of industrial precision from start to finish. Years later, I found it.
It’s a morning ritual that we guess most of you share with us; before whatever work a new day will bring to sit down with a coffee and catch up with the tech news of the moment on Hackaday and other sites. Most of us don’t do many exciting things in our everyday lives, so reading about the coolest projects and the most fascinating new developments provides us with interest and motivation. Imagine just for a moment then that by a twist of fate you found yourself taking a job at the epicentre of the tech that is changing the world, producing the objects of desire and pushing the boundaries, the place you’d give anything to work at.
It’s an intertwined set of narratives peppered with personal anecdotes; of the slightly crazy high-pressure world of consumer videogames and computing, the fine details of designing a range of 8-bit machines, and a fascinating insight into how the culture at Commodore changed in the period following the departure of its founder Jack Tramiel.
Lockdown is boring. No, let’s emphasize that, lockdown is really boring. Walking for exercise is much less fun than it was last year because it’s a wet and muddy February, and with nowhere open, a rare trip out to a McDonalds drive-through becomes a major outing. Stuck inside for the duration we turn our eyes to some of the older ways to wile away the time. Books. Remember them? In doing that I found that the friend whose house I’m living in has the whole library of Usborne children’s computer and technology books from the 1980s. Suddenly a rainy day doesn’t matter, because we’re in a cheerful world of cartoon robots and computer parts!
When Kids Learned Machine Code
If this leaves you none the wiser, it’s worth explaining that during the 1980s home computer boom there was no Internet handily placed for finding out how your new toy worked. Instead you had to read books and hoard the scraps of information they contained. Publishers responded to this new world of technology with enthusiasm, and the British children’s publisher Usborne did so in their characteristic entertaining and informative style. For probably the only time in history, children were presented with mainstream books telling them how to write machine code and interface directly to microprocessors, and those among them who probably now read Hackaday took to them with glee. They remain something of a cult object among retrocomputing enthusiasts, and fortunately a selection of them are available for download. Usborne are still very much in business producing up-to-date books educating today’s children, and to promote some of their more recent titles for the Raspberry Pi they’ve released them in electronic form. Continue reading “A Lockdown Brightened By A Library Of Vintage Usborne Books”→
With everything from APIs to Raspberry Pis making it even easier for us to create and share objects shaped by personal whim, it’s high time that Don Norman’s sage design advice falls on not just the design student, but the hardware hacker and DIY enthusiast too. Grab yourself a coffee and a free weekend, and settle into the psychology of people-struggling-how-to-use-that-widget-they-just-purchased in The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition.
Who’s to blame for a door that opens with a pull when everything about how it looks says it should open with a push? In Don Norman’s world, it’s not you; its the designer. Enter a world where blame is inverted and mistakes can be critically categorized. Norman takes us example by example showing us how common items in the world poorly serve the needs of their user, mainly because the designer simply ignores key aspects of our humanity. This book is a crisp, concise overview of human psychology when applied to engaging with things combined with a language of ideas to help us apply this psychology to better interactions. (And it reads like butter!)
Opening Up to the Language of Design
What’s an affordance, you might ask? Well, simply put, it’s a way that an object can be used by a human. How about a signifier? That’s a communication “signposting” scheme that object uses to suggest to you how it should be used. If that sounds a bit fluffy, just think about the last time you tried to push open a door that needed to be pulled. Something about that door was suggesting that you could push it open, but it couldn’t! It “fooled” you because all the object’s signifiers were telling you otherwise. Continue reading “Books You Should Read: The Design Of Everyday Things”→